Army Painting – First Things First

Who and What?

Painting an army was what I mentioned the other day. Absolutely. So what’s the first step? Well, before I can pick up a brush, I first have to decide which army I’m going to collect and for what game. Models, basing and colour schemes all need to know such things.

To take the second part first, that’s easy. I’m going to collect a new army for my own 28mm fantasy rules – God of Battles. They aren’t out yet, but I know what the lists are and it’ll be good to have a shiny new army ready for when they are released. That way I can do some battle reports and suchlike to demonstrate how things work. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

To appreciate why this is a tricky question for me you might need to re-read this. Go ahead. I’ll wait here.

Back? Cool. So, that’s a starting point. How do I narrow this down? Well because it’s not out yet I haven’t got access to models for all of the ranges. Some of the armies are a bit… unusual. That’s actually a big help in this case. Whilst I’d like all the armies eventually I need to pick one to start with and being able to cross off a couple because the models aren’t to hand narrows the field. Looking at a list and being broad in my interpretation of “not got the models” I can actually discount 5 options. A further one can be put aside for now as it’s a favourite of a friend of mine and if he does an army it will be them. It’d be silly to have 2 armies between us that were both the same.

Of the four remaining armies I have probably got enough models in the lead mountain to build 90% or more of any of them. You know how it is.

I won’t go into detail about what they are as I told Foundry I’d keep such things under wraps till they were ready. Partly for that reason I’ve gone for the greenskins as they will be familiar to all. To be fair, I’m not sure how else I’d have picked between them.


Other Army Building Thoughts

It’s probably also worth mentioning at this stage that I am more than a little picky about models. For example, I don’t build armies with duplicate models in.* Yes, this does make life harder, but then it also makes the army look better (I think), so you pays your money and takes your choice.

I’ve built, painted and sold a load of armies over the years and have come to the conclusion that I don’t want to have to go through that rigmarole many more times. From now on, when I paint an army I will make it one that won’t need replacing. If that means I spend a bit more money and time doing it right then so be it. I’d rather get it right than have the feeling that I cut some corners when I look at them. I’ve done that before and I hated it. Every time I put that particular Undead army on the table I was willing the enemy to kill them just so I could put them back in their cases, out of sight. I doubt that made me play better.

That bilious army was an experiment, and as you follow my adventures in army painting I’m sure I’ll have a few more. I do like to tinker. Sometimes it is a horrible mess and other times it works brilliantly. All part of the learning curve.

I’ve also had an idea about bases, which is to see whether it’s possible to use clear bases for all the models in an army. Crazy? Possibly. My thinking here is based on the ideal I have in mind. In a perfect world, I’d like a tabletop wargame to look like a diorama that can be moved about. Very, very often the basing of armies is completely different from the table they fight over, separating them visually when they should look like they belong. I’m fighting back a rant about terrain, but let me just say that terrain and the way that models interact with it is a sadly neglected topic. If the models had clear bases then perhaps they would blend in better. Worth a try, I reckon. If it works it would also have the benefit of them blending in better with every tabletop, making it well worth making more specific model scenery for different battles, themes or campaigns. No more snow based models on green tables, or vice versa. It’s an idea. If it doesn’t work, I have a plan B πŸ™‚



Choosing the models is next. I’ve picked a game and an army – next time I’ll look at which models to conscript. Greenskins are blessed with a great deal of variety from a plethora of companies and there is a quite bewildering array of options to choose between.



*This is also a convenient excuse to do a bunch of conversions, which I enjoy.

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51 Responses to Army Painting – First Things First

  1. moocifer says:

    There’s a German guy on the TacComm forums (6mm section) who uses home made transparent bases and they look amazing both when simply on display and when in use on the tabletop.

    A good part of this is down to his excellent painting skills but the crisp lines and clean interaction between figures and clearly visible background also helps a great deal.

  2. I always just wish I had more time to finish armies up. I have several half finished ones, but I personally never can seem to muster the “umph” to bring it to a close. Then by the time I revisit it, its generally under a new edition and the “sheen” of that force has dulled over the years. It’s a lot, a lot of work and the increasing model count the two “big games” require keep me from playing just based on the time requirement.

    I’ve got an airbrush now and I am tempted to run some tests and maybe airbursh block infantry. A nice fade + some detailing on weapons / shields could turn out nice!

    • Quirkworthy says:

      An airbrush is at the top of my “painting gubbins” shopping list for just such an experiment.

      Your army problem will be familiar to many who play Warhammer, 40K or Hordemachine. One of the reasons I have trouble with Warmachine, even though it is a fine game, is that I don’t play it regularly enough to either remember the rules properly or for it to be the same thing when I come back to it.

      Luckily, when I wrote God of Battles I had this sort of problem in mind, so the model count is very modest for a mass battle game, and I’m not planning to change the army lists any time soon. Both factors make collecting an army for it much more plausible and much less frustrating. You’d think I wrote it for my own amusement πŸ˜‰

      • tornquistd says:

        In my misspent youth I was really into air brushing. I own an array of brush brands and types in fact so many I can not remember how many. For painting figures I plan to use a Paasche model H. I use a #3 head (tip) the most but for figures I might try a #1 head. I got a paint cup when I got my model H and while I was waiting for the paint bottle I knew I needed I starting using the cup so I could use the new toy straightaway. Who knew that the open cup is great! You mix the paint you need in a paper cup and add to the airbrush cup as you go along. When you are done the cup is easier to clean compared to a bottle rig. If you need to change your mix just dump the cup back into the paper cup and add paint or thinner as needed. With our modern and safer paints you must tinker with your paint and thinner mix as getting it just right is worth it (if you have a bottle rig an open cup will start looking like a good idea). Every bottle of modern paint seems to need a change in mix before it does what you want. Do not put paint with alcohol thinner added back in the paint bottle or add alcohol thinner to the bottle unless you do not plan to keep it.

        It is all about water based paint now and that is a bit challenging compared to lacquer. With lacquer paint you can mix by volume and use lower pressure so getting consistent results was much easier even if you did shorten your life span. Water base paint is the reason I think some of the high end internal mix brushes are not worth the effort (more work to clean) and extra money for most applications. With the new paints and higher pressures I seem to get the same results with an external mix brush as I do with my more expensive internal mix brushes.

        My primary adjustment moving to water base was the increase the air pressure to 40 lbs and thinning with alcohol (use a painting mask and some paints do not like alcohol so test first). I like cost and the results of thinning with alcohol so I do not use any paint that is not compatible with alcohol for air brushing. You do not need alcohol for clean up and I clean up with water with a few drops of dish soap added. Some have said the Vodka makes a good paint thinner. Vodka is easy to get so it is on my list of things to try and I have a bottle on my bench waiting for testing. When it comes to primer I just use the Armory spray cans after all easy is best of quality is acceptable.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Thinning water based paints with alcohol sounds weird. Thinning them with vodka sounds… Russian.

          From the videos I’ve been watching and the articles I’ve been reading 40lbs sounds quite high. It does depend a lot on exactly what effect you’re after though (and the particular model of airbrush, and type of paint, and viscosity of your mix, and…).

        • tornquistd says:

          The particular model of airbrush, and type of paint, and viscosity of your mix what you are painting etc… does add up to a lot to sort through that is why I included so much detail. If you have not used an air brush before there are lot of combinations to get wrong. Normally you want the paint to go on smooth if you can avoid runs and dusting (drying in the air) higher pressure will help with a smooth coat. Before water base paint I used much less pressure and I think it was much easier for a beginner to get good results just by following instructions.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Thanks Don. Lots to experiment with!

          I’ll be sure to post my (mis)adventures on Q once I’ve got my paws on the toys πŸ™‚

        • Actually that keeps me too from playing Warmahordes.

  3. james says:

    i recently sold just about all my toys.

    I have a lagre & sprawling Khador force (warmachine)

    a growing Gatorman army (Hordes)

    a five man Justice department force (Judge Dredd mini’s game)

    and currently 2 teams and a bunch of MVP’s for this game called DreadBall. not sure if you know it.

    None of these are fully painted.

    By the end of next year my pledge is to have them all painted.

    then i want a new army πŸ™‚

    • james says:

      unless of course RL gets in the way πŸ™‚

      • Quirkworthy says:

        Well RL does have a habit of such intrusions. However, we all need to dream…

        When you say you sold most of your stuff, are the ones you list the only survivors of the purge?

        • james says:

          Yep, all my collection now lives in 3 cases, except my Khador colossal as it won’t fit.

          Condisering i used to work for GW when staff still got weight discount (GW White Rose FTW πŸ™‚ ) it feels very strange to have so little left

          Recently got rid of a fully painted Circle orboros army and a huge skorne army (not painted) for Hordes.

          Some of the money went towards Dreadball though so it was worth it.

          I have a feeling real life will definitely have an impact, i have daughter due in January.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          That is an impressive level of purging. Stalin would be proud.

          I’m flattered you’ve chosen DB to be one of the happy few who’ve survived. I can see how RL may impinge somewhat in the new year. Best of luck to you and your lady with that. At least DB is a small model count and is quick to play. Perhaps you can squeeze in the odd game between nappy changes πŸ™‚

        • james says:

          Thanks Jake. Much appreciated.

          Yeah, i just couldnt resist DreadBall πŸ™‚

          I’m being ‘smart’. I’m going to buy my son his own models so that we can have games. That way it becomes a way to keep him entertained rather than just me sat in a corner ignoring the family πŸ™‚

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Arranging to father your own future gaming partners is a cunning (and long term) plan. Can’t fault it πŸ™‚

        • james says:


          I’m quite proud of it myself πŸ™‚

  4. LavaJohn says:

    I have had the diorama terrain discussion before. What it comes down to is practicality. A real forest is extremely dense and really difficult to move models through. Especially ones on bases. Real hills vary in slope but terrain hills need to be shallow or topographical for playability. I agree on the base theme issue though, it helps to make either generic bases (which are boring) or make a table that fits your models at least.

    Clear bases could work, I would like to see the results. The difference between perspex flat bases and clear textured bases would be interesting too. Could go the whole way and play on a glass table too? ;-p

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Practicality is a crucial issue, but not the only one. I’ve seen plenty of ugly scenery that’s not practical either. I just think that there’s a lot more that could be done with scenery to make it look more appealing without making it impractical. You do have to make compromises to fit models in and around the terrain, of course you do. That doesn’t stop things looking several times better than we’re used to though.

      Most often, when people have made any effort at all, what you see if dull and repetitive scenery and models with fancy bases sitting on it, looking out of place. Fancy bases are great if they are display pieces, but don’t suit gaming as well from the POV of fitting into the scenery. This is especially true because the models move, but also because they could play on more than one set of terrain. Clear bases should, in theory, get round that.

      Not sure why a glass table would help. What did you have in mind?

      • LavaJohn says:

        I was being silly with the glass table. Clear bases on clear terrain on clear glass table. (With a real world map under the table perhaps?) In saying that a set of Tron painted dreadball models on a clear acrylic pitch could look awesome!
        You are right that ugly scenery is too commonplace. Same-ey scenery is more a product of trying to avoid ugly as a plastic/resin kit of scenery inevitably looks better than most home made jobs (short of being a highly skilled scenery craftsman). I recently made 13 tables of scenery in 2 months for a Warmachine tournament with a tight budget (around $30 USD per table) and while I admit there was repetition it all looked above average visually. The hard scenery types to make look good are the natural ones, forests, hedges, rivers etc. The effort to result pay-off is fairly exponential, it takes little effort to get something basic but to get something decent can take weeks and something really good can take months.

        In defence of repetition sometimes it will look better than a random assortment of terrain. Modern day England would be a good example as I’m told it is extremely difficult to find your house if you’ve had a few… Townships tend to have very similar designs as they were often all built by the same builders, it is all in the finer details where differences should be made (Flower gardens, open/closed windows, roof colour/wear/overgrowth/damage and so on.) A handful of buildings all from different manufacturers may be easy for gaming but it wont look like a real town.

        • LavaJohn says:

          Ah another thought… Diorama terrain looks better in tile or full table form, rather than the typical standalone pieces. This has the inherent issue that once you have played on the table a few times it stops being a tactical consideration or you remember the spacings between features, that hill is always 15″ from the left etc. There are some very nice terrain tables out there but in the home environment you will get bored of playing on the same table every game (so you build a new one, then another etc. etc.) At least at an event/tournament players are mostly going to play on the table once so it stays fresh. Loose terrain pieces are harder to integrate into a cohesive diorama style table without being obviously added on top. City streets and buildings would be an exception here, you could have a drop in tile system with a permanent street lattice… (May have to build that one myself…)

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Depends on the town. Whilst a new estate might be very much a case of the same cookie cutter repeated (and even then they tend to include 3-4 different designs) most streets are far more varied.

          Modern day England is a product of centuries of overwriting, rebuilding, repurposing, additions, modifications and extensions to buildings. It depends on where you are though, both in terms of date and build style and also usage. CBDs are very unlikely to be the same thing repeated as they have many years (in some cases 500+) of being a business hub, and businesses tend to do what they need to to make money regardless of the appearance.

          You are right that the details are the key to making things look individual, and that applies whether the buildings start off the same or not.

          Oh, have you got any pictures of these boards you made? Just wondering πŸ™‚

          Re diorama terrain: I know what you mean about fixed set ups, though modular terrain has its own issues.

          When I was very young, one of my first gaming boards was an 8×4 fixed scenery battlefield. I build up a series of hills and ridges with mod-roc moulded over scrumpled newspaper because I’d never seen anything other than model railway boards and that was how one built them. After a few dozen battles I could tell you how many tanks each ridge line would hold, how far it was between each set of firing positions and so on. So yes, that’s an issue.

          My thinking about dioramas wasn’t that it would be a fixed thing, but that the quality and attention to detail would be of a similar standard. I’d do this as pieces to lay onto a flat table. I prefer this to modular terrain as I heartily dislike the straight lines where the modular bits join. I’ve never seen that really work and for me it inevitably spoils the good work on the modules themselves. I’ll pause there though. There’s a whole article of rant here πŸ™‚

      • some whashers, trees & bushes and some felt go a long way to create some nice scenery easily.

  5. Medivo says:

    One of the Problems I always have, especially with newer games, is that the most recent release is always the shiniest, and if you’re playing with a group of friends in a semi-closed meta, you can’t always play with your ‘perfect army’ because you get trashed by their newer toys.

    Then again, if you can play lots of Style before purpose’ games then it can be cool.

    The Clear bases are a really cool idea,as I find that generic graasland bases are boring, but applicable to almost every tabletop situation, and fancy time consuming or bought scenic bases often look very out of place on anything but the most fantastic or detaied gaming board.

    Best of luck with your newest project though, I cant wait to see it come together!

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Again, it depends on which game you are playing. If you’re playing Ancients or WWI games – basically anything historical – then the armies don’t change. You can’t make stuff up to add to armies. Fantasy and SF gaming, on the other hand, tends to be driven by constantly adding things to keep the public buying new toys from the companies that make them. There’s no toy like a shiny new one!

      Power creep is another issue entirely.

      I agree with your comments about bases. Most of the time people choose a base treatment which is bland enough to sort of work with most things, which means it doesn’t really work with any of them well. There’s also the fact that bases are so small (and there are so many products to help) that they’re relatively easy to do nicely, where applying the same degree of care to a whole table requires serious dedication. People seldom manage that, which means that bases are almost invariably done to a higher standard than the boards they sit on – another reason they don’t look like they belong together.

      My thinking with the clear bases was that they would automatically fit in regardless of what you sat them on. And, assuming they work, they free up basing time to spend on making the table look nicer πŸ™‚

  6. killaminis says:

    There is a solution to your Base issues. Use a Metal or Magnetic tabletop and install rare earth magnets in the feet of you models. This would completely eliminate the base and give your troops a real ” Feet on the Ground” feel. Of course the upfront work would be a bit tedious.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      That’s another option. It would mean that you’d also have to make all of your scenery bases out of metal so that they could walk up hills, through forests and so on. I am tempted, but I’m not quite that crazy πŸ˜‰

      • LavaJohn says:

        I had discussed this concept with the lads for a slightly different reason, Hordemachine travel edition. Most of use use metal tool boxes for transport so our bases already have magnets. Then just make a travel friendly sized board and you can play on the long train ride to a tournament.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          If you’re doing travel editions, I’m assuming that you’re going to find smaller models too…

        • LavaJohn says:

          Nah, we were just going to cut down the deployment zones and play small point games to kill time. I guess we could scale things down from inches to cm though, would be a nice scaling factor…

        • Quirkworthy says:

          That would work.

          Still think you should get the shrink-o ray out though.

        • LavaJohn says:

          If only I could bend the laws of physics to do just that. I may be able to learn to sculpt small enough but I would need a games designer to tweak the rules for Iron Kingdoms Mass Battles travel edition, hint hint…

        • Quirkworthy says:

          I have faith LJ. Your skills are up to it!

          Taking down the measurements from inches to cm makes a model go from 25mm to 10mm, so there’s the scale you need.

          I think that once you started it would be surprisingly easy to source and convert the things you needed. It just takes the passion to drive it.

          If you actually wanted to change any rules for a travel edition I’d suggest putting it on a hex grid for ease of play (avoids the need for a measuring device when travelling – one less thing to lose).

  7. tornquistd says:

    It is great to see this subject on your web site. I have got a few bones reaper figures and am working on how to clean the mold lines. Seems like a hot knife might work but have not found/bought one yet. Also I am going to extremes on using plaster castings for making scenery if anyone is interested in that. I have a home made vibrating table and just setup a degassing pot.

    It will be interesting to see what you select for green skin figures. I like the proportions of the Mantic green skins but the “softer” castings are a bit time consuming to paint. Their goblins look nice but I am not keen on gluing metal to plastic. I like plastic because that is what I am used to working with when it comes to modifications.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I’ve not seen the Bones figures and it depends on what kind of material they’re made from. Usually hot knives are a poor tool for cleaning flash. At least, they are in my experience. Ruined a couple of models that way. I usually use the flat edge of a sharp scalpel to scrape lines off, and occasionally a file for the fiddly areas. Really soft, bendy plastics will not like files much though. Trimming the offending bits off with a new scalpel blade may be the way forward if the plastic is very soft. Be very careful though. Those things are designed to slice through people and they’re very good at it!

      I for one would be interested to see an explanation of your plaster scenery and the gear you’ve made to make it. Personally I’d be tempted to use plaster to make masters of new pieces, but would probably cast in resin for strength and lightness. Plaster can hold detail beautifully, but is heavy to cart about and doesn’t take knocks well.

      The follow on article to this one is all about Orcs and which models I’m going to use. It might even have some picture s in it πŸ˜‰

      • LavaJohn says:

        I can understand wanting to keep it in plaster from a cost perspective, large sections of resin have the thermal runaway problem so you would want to keep the thickness of the moulded part thin. I have some theories on how to improve the strength/weight issue with plaster, using cheap mesh fabric to improve strength and bean bag balls to decrease the weight. If Tornquistd would be kind enough to try it and report the results that would be fantastic, I simply am not set up to try it out.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          I don’t know about the relative costs of plaster and resin. I had a brief look, but there is more than one kind of each available and I don’t know enough to decide whether I need the cheap or expensive types.

        • LavaJohn says:

          I have cast my own bases and models, plaster is by far the cheaper option but doesn’t take high detail. For a resin you want a fast cure (<10 min), shore D 30-40 as it will enable a quick turnaround of parts and survive regular gaming without chipping while not being too flexible. Longer cure times have pros and cons depending on what you are making. I can provide links to the stuff I use for making bases that will also be suitable for bigger jobs. The silicone is the real costly part of the equation though.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          I’ve been told (though haven’t tried) that plaster can take lots of detail if you get a high enough quality. It just doesn’t survive knocks so well. I know that masters of terrain pieces are often made in plaster as it can be finely carved and detailed. Of course, they don’t have to survive more than the most careful of handling.

        • LavaJohn says:

          Therein lies the problem I guess. It is far too brittle for the detail level wargaming requires. I have used plaster molds for N scale rock formations in the past, the detail was very good. But they were not designed to be touched, bumped or to have a 1/2 kilo metal warjack/dreadnought dropped on them! As long as you can get the bubbles out of the resin it is a much better long term option. For masters the story is different, forever to be locked away in padded boxes only brought out when a mold needs replacing…

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Yup. Plaster won’t like big, heavy, spiky things being dropped on it.

          Bubbles… now there’s a thing. I looked up debubbliser on Ebay, but wasn’t sure if it was spelled with an s or a z.

  8. mattadlard says:

    Speaking of God of Battles, picked up a copy at Foundries rogue trader event. Nice coffee and cake afternoon gaming rules. Was a good purchase.

  9. Chris says:

    Clean bases work very well with Dwarf Kings Hold! A chap on the mantic forums did it (, I too would like to have a go, but I would want the bases to have a hole through them to allow the integral Mantic bases to sit flush. However not keen on trying to drill them myself so would wan to order them from somewhere…

    Also seen it done ages ago in I think Fanatic magazine with warmaster models.

    I would say a considering is how thick (to address the models floating in place look) and if the model has any sort of integral base that might get in the way of the look.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Thanks for the link Chris.

      That works very well. Matt’s got the quick painting style off very well – I’ve seen his armies in the flesh and they look great on the tabletop. He’s got a good eye for just the right amount of detail for an army without going over the top.

      I especially like the top down shot which illustrates nicely what I mean about leaving the details of the ground visible (in this case the tile art) and helping the models to blend in.

      Personally I’d just cut off the integral round base and stick the model’s feet directly to the clear base. No drilling required πŸ™‚

      I’m also going to see if I can get thinner bases to avoid the floating look.

  10. tornquistd says:

    There are many grades of plaster. The harder and stronger stuff is surprisingly resistant to breaking or chipping. There are limits to shapes that will be strong so you can not go thin with raised details if they stick out to far. However I have tested blocks by raising them over my head and throwing them down on a tile floor as hard as I could with no damage. The nice thing about plaster is the low cost, great shelf life and the fact it does not damage the molds so you can get a massive number of casts out of one mold.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      That last point is a good one.

      I suspect that the real trick to this is careful choice of the right medium for the job. Flatter pieces in less exposed areas could be plaster, and more “sticky-out” bits (that’s a technical term) in resin. Unless cost (and time to remake moulds) is not an issue, in which case everything could be made in resin.

      One other thing I have seen done in plaster is bespoke carved bits (stone walls in this case) done almost in situ to give terrain pieces a unique element among the repeated tiles. That worked very well. Of course, you could do the same carving and then cast it in resin…

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